Whitehall News

Tough love: Mom's pleas send daughter to jail

Whitehall mom hopes 90-day sentence will quell addiction, keep her granddaughter, 4, out of harm's way

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JOSHUA A. BICKEL/THISWEEKNEWS
Susan Smith helps her granddaughter, Amiyah, 4, as she practices writing the letter "Z" last week at their home in Whitehall. Smith recently asked Whitehall Mayor's Court officials to sentence her daughter Stefanie Huber -- Amiyah's mom -- to 90 days in jail to break her addiction to heroin. During Huber's time in Franklin County jail, Smith has been caring for Amiyah.
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Susan Starr Smith is looking forward to the day she will see her daughter again.

But she hopes the face she sees isn't the same one that looked at her through the glass at the Franklin County Correction Center.

"I stared heroin straight in the eyes -- and it terrified me," said Smith.

The 51-year-old Whitehall resident played a role in her daughter Stefanie Huber's incarceration by appealing to the magistrate at the city's Mayor's Court to keep Huber in jail for the maximum 90-day sentence of her drug-related offense -- a misdemeanor charge of possession of drug-abuse instruments.

So detrimental were the effects of withdrawal, Smith said, that deputies at the jail had to point Huber out to her mother.

"I walked (into the visitation room) real slow," she said. "I went all the way to the end and back again and said, 'I don't see her.' They said 'look again' and pointed to her. That's how bad she was."

Smith said she told her daughter, "I'm going to save your life," and her daughter swore at her.

But Smith said she believes her daughter eventually will seek the help she needs for herself -- and most importantly, for her own daughter, Amiyah, who will turn 5 years old later this month.

"(My daughter) says she hates me and that she will never forgive me," said Smith, whose actions have been relayed to Huber by her visitors. "But I told her I loved her. I have broad shoulders. She can hate me, but if she gets clean, for her and for Amiyah, then I've done my job. I'll go to my grave happy if I saved her life."

Smith said she knows Huber isn't the same woman whose picture is displayed in the hallway of Whitehall-Yearling High School as a member of the school's Athletic Hall of Fame, where the 2006 graduate was a varsity letter-winner while playing softball and basketball.

After Huber graduated, she attended Bradford School and earned certification as a medical assistant.

In 2008, she moved into a residence on Little Flower Lane that she rented from Smith.

In March 2009, Amiyah was born, and the stresses of a full-time job and child-rearing, combined with an "unhealthy environment" at home, perhaps laid the groundwork for Huber's journey toward addiction, Smith said.

Amiyah's father lived with the family but did not work, said Smith, adding that discord was not uncommon.

Huber lost well-paying jobs in her field and eventually turned to a string of minimum-wage jobs, Smith said.

"Stefanie began finding new friends outside of her family life, and that's how she found the heroin," she said.

Smith said she knows precisely who supplied the drugs to her daughter. Whitehall police arrested the man at the same time as her daughter, on Jan. 30 at the man's residence on Little Flower Lane, near Huber's home.

Smith said she was not immediately aware of her daughter's drug abuse but questioned the changes she saw in Stefanie near the end of 2012.

Rent payments were reduced or missed, Smith said, and thefts, property damage and burglaries were occurring at the property Huber was renting.

Concerned for the safety of her granddaughter, Smith said she sought intervention from other agencies, but ultimately had to confront her daughter, who acknowledged her drug abuse last summer and through Franklin County Children Services agreed to a shared-custody arrangement between Amiyah's two grandmothers.

"But Stefanie would find excuses to leave (during her arranged visitations) and when she came back, she was too happy," Smith said. "I knew she had went somewhere and got a hit."

In November, Smith said she searched her daughter's purse and found needles and crushed pills. She called her husband, David, and they agreed to call Whitehall police.

Police determined the pills were over-the-counter drugs, and no arrests were made.

Smith persuaded Huber to enter a drug rehabilitation program at Maryhaven, a health-care center for treatment of addictions, but she did not complete the course.

"We struggled through the holidays," said Smith, adding that Huber would be missing for days at a time.

On Jan. 30, after Huber had been gone for several days, Whitehall police went to the residence on Little Flower Lane.

Smith said when she was advised at the Feb. 4 Mayor's Court hearing that Huber likely would be released, she told court officials, "She'll go right back (to heroin). It will kill her."

Smith said she refuted her daughter's claims in Mayor's Court that she had no support and appealed to the court to help Huber get the help she needs.

As part of her 90-day sentence, Huber must write a variety of letters accepting responsibility and must arrange for post-release treatment for her drug addiction, Smith said.

"I think she'll be OK," she said. "This whole town is behind her. We've lost too many kids to heroin."

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